Thoughts on the Forward Stroke and Speed

Just some observations, thoughts and questions on efficient forward stroke technique for maximum speed. My observations here are based upon achieved maintainable speeds using my GPS.

Lately I have been trying to refine my forward stroke to maximize my speed on the water. I think my stroke is pretty good (I have both Brent and Bart’s videos already) and am in pretty good paddling condition. I realize that the key to going faster is largely in technique.

Some things I have noticed that I am going to follow up on my next few times paddling…

I am 5’8 and generally use a Werner Ikelos bent shaft in a 210 length. I have always liked this paddle and length…get good torso rotation. However, I went paddling last night and switched over to my Werner Cyprus…same length overall but with a bit shorter blade and longer shaft. I have always felt taht this made the paddle “feel longer” than the Ikelos due to the longer shaft.

Bottom line is that I could paddle faster (was able to maintain a 6mph speed with my Greenlander Pro when paddling at an exercise pace) with the smaller bladed paddle than with the larger bladed paddle and I made some observations as to perhaps why.

I noticed a couple of things. First, while I was getting the blade submerged correctly using the Ikelos I think that it may be too short for me. I felt that with the longer shafted paddle I was able to “spear” my paddle farther forward thus extending the power portion of my stroke. I also found that I might have actually been leaning slightly forward with the Ikelos in order to compensate for this. I have not ever really heard someone mention this issue as a factor in selecting a paddle length, but to me it makes sense that perhaps my optimal paddle length is a 215 and not a 210. I have ordered a paddle in a 215 and will give it a try next week and see.

The other thing I noticed is that with the smaller bladed paddle it was much more optimal for me to paddle at a significantly higher cadence than with the larger paddle. No shocker here; however it made me wonder whether a smaller bladed paddle with a higher cadence can propel the boat faster than a larger bladed paddle at a slower cadence. Think I have seen this topic discussed in the past but can’t remember exactly what was said.

I find that with the larger bladed Ikelos I paddle at a slower cadence, but really get a powerful catch…can muscle the stroke a little more. With the smaller bladed paddle this did not really work…not enough catch. Instead I just increased my cadence (almost doubled it probably). The faster cadence definitely worked better with this paddle and resulted in more of an aerobic workout, less of a muscular effort.

I will try out the longer Ikelos next week and see what happens.

I guess perhaps the key is to try to get to where I can maintain a high cadence with the larger bladed paddle. I will try doing so with it and see what difference it makes.


I agree with your assessment, B1

– Last Updated: Apr-20-07 7:25 AM EST –

Bowler1 wrote:
"I find that with the larger bladed Ikelos I paddle at a slower cadence, but really get a powerful catch...can muscle the stroke a little more. With the smaller bladed paddle this did not really work...not enough catch. Instead I just increased my cadence (almost doubled it probably). The faster cadence definitely worked better with this paddle and resulted in more of an aerobic workout, less of a muscular effort. "

I ahve found the magic of the Greenland paddl (perhaps you shold try one with your Greenland boat), and it is precisley as you write. More forgiving on my arms and shoulders, higher cadence. Clearly and absolutely does not accelerate as fast as my Werner Corryvrecken, but once up to speed (what, maybe 3-4 total strokes either way), they are matched nicely--the GP with fluid stroke, higher candence and less arm strain, or the Werner with more stroke-pause-stroke-pause syncopation. After using billinpa's Mitchell GP for only about three times out, I woud certainly use it if I was going to do an all day paddle.

Greenland Paddle
I actually just got one myself…have yet to try it out on the water.

I am intrigued. Watched Doug VanDoren’s GP stroke video. Looks like it may be worth checking into.


Greenland Paddle
I tend to switch between a Greenland stick and an Epic Full Carbon Active Tour paddle. I like both a lot. I own 8 paddles, 6 of which are for use in my sea kayaks, the other two are ww paddles. I use my GP and Epic more than the other 4 combined.

I enjoy using the GP the most. I get better rotation and am more relaxed with it than with my Epic. I can paddle longer times/distance with my GP.

Maybe there is something to those Greenland paddles!

To be honest I bought one becaues I am decorating a room in my home in a paddling theme and wanted one for the wall. Figured that I might actually use it a bit, but it was primarily a wall ornament.

Maybe I’ll have to consider using it more!

I have to say as well that after seeing Doug Vandoren’s video I was somewhat impressed with some of the other advantages that a Greenland paddle seems to offer. Seems like a versatile paddle. We’ll see though…breaking me from a Euro blade will be tough.

Guess the Greenland paddle would be quite appropriate with my Greenlander Pro…oh no I guess next I’ll want to sell my dry suit and get one of those tuliaks or whatever they call those things!



doesn’t have to be one or the other
I use both Euro and Greenland paddles depending on my mood. It’s nice having another “gear” availible.

The GP is a much better conversation starter if I’m cruising the shoreline at the local lake.

While you’re checking into it…
… consult a wider range of sources. QajaqUSA has a lot to offer in it’s archives, videos, etc.

Doug V is no doubt an awesome paddler (far better than I), but that video has been around a while. Some of the GP style that developed in the Midwest did so isolated from Greenland contact.

I’m not speaking specifically about Doug’s video (which I’m told is great, but haven’t seen) from here on - just generalizations from many discussions of GP stroke…

These (what I call Midwestern) styles typically involve wider loomed paddles, and hand placement completely on the loom. Also, little or no cant is used (and with a loom only grip would have to be more applied than natural). Basically, to my eye it’s using GP as if it were a narrow bladed double canoe paddle.

This style is also it the source of (mis)interpretation that GPs are “low angle” paddles. “Low and slow” is just not the GP I know!

That style can be quite effective, and I’d suggest trying anything and everything. For me though it just it largely misses the special nature of the GP. An individually sized loom (good bit of variation on preferences here too), a grip with thumb/forefinger around loom and rest of hand on blade roots (with the natural cant that comes from that hand position), and a variety of stroke angles/styles from there - will let you really see what the fuss is about - and put your EPs are greater risk of neglect.

An individually sized loom
I am fortunate in that Al Mapes made my GP for me. He is now making a storm paddle for me as well.

Having a paddle the right size makes a huge difference whether Greenland or Euro.

You’ve got it!

The paddleblade must be submerged to prevent ventilation, air creeping down the backface, and power loss.

Higher cadence results in higher speed.

Moving the stroke further forward and ending it sooner, before the hip, minimizes yaw, which slows the hull, and spends your strength when the blade is at its’ most efficient, +/- 10 degrees to perpendicular to the stroke.

Not too long
> First, while I was getting the blade submerged

correctly using the Ikelos I think that it may be

too short for me. I felt that with the longer

shafted paddle I was able to “spear” my paddle

farther forward thus extending the power portion

of my stroke.

Be careful with that analysis. If you are able to spear farther forward with a longer paddle, it’s mainly by using a less vertical, more horizontal angle. In fact, if the paddle is too long, it essentially forces you to take a more horizontal angle to get it submerged.

The result is that the initial pull on the blade will come with paddle less vertical than you want for maximum leverage. And that’s the most important part of the stroke for power. You’ll be pulling down more and back less than you want. The ideal is to get the paddle vertical as quickly as you can and not pull before that. Then as you pull, keep it vertical.

Of course, it’s a tradeoff. If the paddle is too short, your hands will be too close to the water in that pulling phase, and that will lose efficiency in a different way.


Being able to maintain high speeds for long durations is about the elimination of inefficiencies. Keep the power on only when the paddle is moving parallel to the desired course wastes the least energy.

To Bolwer:

I’ll often use a longer paddle for speed work than I would for general cruising or rock play. At some point a short paddle bumps up against a cadence ceiling kind of thing. I pick a paddle to define a cadence and speed range dependent of the goals for the day.


minor differences

A longer lever radius produces a more shallow arc and extends the potential distance the blade can travel while still roughly parallel to the direction of travel.

No one said you have to “load” the blade as soon as it’s submerged and at any rate we are not talking about 240cm and longer paddles.

Having a paddle that too long is as bad as having a paddle that is too short but in general terms a slightly longer then “play-length” paddle can be appropriate for speed work.


Minor difference – I see your point
Hey, Jed – bump into you in the oddest places!

I agree – 210 vs 215 is not that bigga deal, by contrast with 240 or even 230… or even 220.

But I still don’t see the point of going longer if that means you delay, even a little, loading the paddle after submersion. Whatever extra reach you got from the length, seems to me you give it up by delaying. On top of that you’ve just introduced more complications and chances for extra turbulence and drag.

So, maybe I need a more explicit picture to understand how a slightly longer paddle can give you more speed… perhaps at the loss of some overall efficiency that you’d want for distance.

Hmmm… I can imagine that a bit of downward component to the pull as an extra would actually give you some more oomph, though less efficiently, and maybe even lift the boat a tiny bit out of the water. But I don’t see how delaying the loading will get you that.


True, 210 vs. 215 is a small difference, but the difference will feel quite significant to a good paddler as I am sure we can all agree. Just the slight difference in shaft length between my Ikelos and Cyprus paddles (both the same overall length) is quite noticeable to me on the water.

Why the extra length: well first of all remember that I am basing my comments on actual observations. With the longer shaft I was able to get my paddle into the water farther forward which resulted in more speed for me on the water…probably because it allowed me to keep better posture and because it extended the length of the power portion of the stroke.

Mind you…my blade was still completely submerged with the shorter paddle…just found that I had to lean slightly forward to get the paddle to enter the water as far forward as I think that it should. The videos mentioned above both emphasize spearing the paddle into the water as far forward as possible to extend the power portion of the stroke…I found that with the shorter paddle I was either spearing it farther back than what I would think was optimal or leaning forward a bit in order to spear it farther forward. With the longer shaft I can sit upright and spear the paddle quite far forward and right next to the hull.



I am 5’9" and use an Ikelos 210

– Last Updated: Apr-21-07 8:51 AM EST –

My dealer would not sell me a 215; he is a few inches taller than me and also uses a 210.

Initially, upon using the Ikelos, I would lean slightly forward and try to spear the paddle as far forward as the length of my arms would permit. After several hundred miles with this paddle, I feel I am more efficient not reaching as far forward but focusing on a clean, almost vertical catch, with a shorter overall stroke (i.e.- faster take-out).

I'm no expert but this works for me. I believe the Ikelos was constructed for a very high-angle stroke with the blade almost always vertical and near to the boat. If that is the case, it appears to me the shorter paddle is more appropriate.

From the midwest, would rather have this style of paddling with a greenland paddle be refered to as “Doug’s” style…not the midwestern style…Doug is the only one I know of who teaches this style and Al Anderson (Betsy Bay Kayaks) is as far as I’m aware, the only one that makes that style paddle (hands all on the loom)

Best Wishes from the midwest


I’ll see soon…
I have probably paddled a thousand miles with my 210…don’t get me wrong I love the paddle.

I just recently made this observation. Don’t know whether or not I will gain an advantage with the longer paddle…I’ll know soon though becuase my 215 arrives Tuesday. I will try it out and give feedback.

Again, my reasoning is based largely on the fact taht I can paddle faster with the smaller bladed paddle than the large bladed Ikelos which is what I am used to which just doesn’t seem to make sense to me.


Look at you first.
This may offend you…if so an advance on my apology.

You likely are not powerful enough to handle the larger blade, and thus you are more efficient with the smaller one. Just as with boats, one first must look at themselves realistically. So you have a thousand miles…wait till it’s five thousand…you’ll be stronger.

Your observations are accurate for you, but cannot be construed as fact. Bigger blades offer more power for those who have said power. If you don’t, use a smaller blade and net a better overall result. That is what you are experiencing.

I think there are optimal lengths. For me that’s 210 for touring.


– Last Updated: Apr-21-07 4:21 PM EST –

Perhaps you are right, although I am not sure the blade is too big for me. I don't take offense to your comments.

I am not your average build for a paddler at a pretty solid 5'8, 190 and think that my strength is ample for a larger bladed paddle and think my technique is pretty decent.....but you could be right, maybe it is too big. It is a big paddle.

My only point in stating the mileage for which I have been using this paddle is only to point out the fact that I have been using this paddle for a while and it is not just a matter of not being used to it (previous post implied that perhaps this was a fairly new paddle for me but it is not...I have been using it for over a year now and am very much used to it)

I may also be discovering some things about technique...I use a fast cadence with the smaller paddle. With the bigger one I tend to focus less on cadence and more on power. Perhaps the key to paddling fast is cadence rather than trying to milk as much power as possible with each stroke. Lots of variables here.

I will test it out with the longer shaft when I get it and then will try again with the 210 and try perhaps altering my stroke and cadence a bit. I will compare the results using my GPS to my smaller bladed Cyprus and see what I come up with. The proof is in the numbers.

I will report my results. Maybe Salty is right...if so I will still keep the Ikelos for surf work and playing around. The big blade sure is powerful and boyant.


Get coaching
For years I’ve thought I had a decent stroke…after all it’s carried me injury free for a few thousand miles, and I’m usually waiting on others. I recently asked my ex-Olympic team coach friend to give me feedback on my stroke. We’ve paddled together for years and he’s never offered advice…simply said “you have a good stroke” I really pushed asking recently and he gave me a few pointers that really made a difference. It was a good stroke, but I lacked some technique when sprinting for max power. His advice was hugely helpful. As you seem ultra keen and very curious I’d say buy a lesson from Barton or Oscar, or similar. You’ll get more in half a day than you will in years of personal trial and error.